Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Sappho (SA-foh), the Greek poet. Wearing the laurel wreath of victory from the Olympian contest of poetry and song, she returns to her island home bringing Phaon, with whom she has fallen deeply in love. When the young man falls in love with Melitta, Sappho, offended and troubled, accuses him of being a deceiver in love. Phaon’s reply that he now realizes it was her genius he loved rather than herself causes Sappho to reflect on her gifts. Deciding that her genius bars her from meeting the demands of ordinary mortal existence, she calls on the gods to receive her as she hurls herself into the sea.


Phaon (FAY-on), a young charioteer. Having a great admiration for the poems of Sappho, he falls in love with the poet when they meet at Olympia. He returns with her to Lesbos where, in spite of her love and consideration, the simple young man is uncomfortable in her luxurious surroundings. When he falls in love with Melitta, he realizes that it was Sappho’s genius he had loved at Olympia, not the woman herself.


Melitta (meh-LIH-tuh), Sappho’s beautiful young slave, who brings to Phaon the realization that it is the poet’s genius and not Sappho herself that he has loved.


Rhamnes (RAM-neez), Sappho’s elderly slave.

Sappho Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Coenen, Frederic. Franz Grillparzer’s Portraiture of Men. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1951. Focuses on the depiction of Phaon and Rhamnes in Sappho. Calls the former a “delightfully youthful figure” who grows in self-knowledge during the drama; asserts the latter figure is better drawn than most servants in similar dramas.

Thompson, Bruce. Franz Grillparzer. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Surveys Grillparzer’s poetry, prose, and drama. Reviews the critical reception of Sappho, and examines the author’s handling of the psychological dimensions of his heroine. Concludes the work is an example of Grillparzer’s treatment of the theme of the artist’s tragedy.

Wells, George A. The Plays of Grillparzer. London: Pergamon Press, 1969. Excellent scholarly analysis of Sappho, summarizing earlier critical opinion and providing detailed examination of character, plot, and structure. Notes the technical advancements over Grillparzer’s earlier work.

Yates, Douglas. Franz Grillparzer: A Critical Biography. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1946. Insightful study of the writer’s major works, organized chronologically to show his development as a dramatist. Chapter on Sappho examines Grillparzer’s intentions and his handling of the theme of the artist’s tragedy.

Yates, W. E. Grillparzer: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1972. Provides brief sketch of Grillparzer’s life. Analyzes his works, focusing on themes such as love, duty, and the role of the artist. Describes the genesis of Sappho and provides extensive discussion of character development, showing how the heroine achieves self-knowledge through her tragedy.